Thanks to a new discovery by scientists at Florida Atlantic University, a treatment for people on the autism spectrum may be within reach!
A new pathway in the brain related to behavioral symptoms of autism has been discovered by scientists at FA University and they have found a drug that may suppress them.
Even though there are still no treatments for autism in adults, the researchers discovered a drug that treated behavioral disruptions in mice genetically engineered to have autism. The team suggests that it might have the same positive effects for adults on the spectrum.
About 1.5 million people in the United States have ASD or autism spectrum disorder. Symptoms vary differently in children, adults, men and women. Many enjoy successful careers, live independently and have long-term relationships.
However, many also struggle to interact with people. Some easily reach sensory overload and tormented with repetitive behaviors. Symptoms can be debilitating and day-to-day living can be agonizing.
Causes of autism are not entirely known but scientists believe that both genetic and environmental factors have great influences. Behavioral therapy, occasional antidepressant, and antipsychotic drugs do not treat the central symptoms of autism.
After decades of research on the relationship between autism and serotonin, the team at FAU may be close to getting the right treatment.
25 years ago, they discovered that a genetic mutation was throwing off serotonin’s regulation in people with ASD. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter that gives happy feelings, also plays an important role in social functioning.
They discovered that a particular enzyme had an effect on the reabsorption of serotonin.
Lead study author Dr. Randy Blakely told Daily Mail Online: “To use the Spinal Tap analogy, it turns it up to 11 and takes away way more serotonin than it should.”
Their team looked for a drug that could slow down that enzyme. He said: “And we found it.”
They discovered it in another lab at Northwestern University, where Dr. Martin Watterson developed a compound called MW150.
The team at FAU tested MW150 in mice with autism and it worked like an antidepressant might.
Dr. Blakely said: “In a week, it had removed those social behavior changes, and we saw a number of other features of their brains in terms of physiology that made them look more like the mice that didn’t have the mutation.
This opens up a whole new class of drugs for us to consider thinking about using in humans.”
The compound MW150 is still years off from being available to people. But the team says that they have learned an important target for the ‘core symptoms’ of ASD.
“It’s a foot in the door,” Dr. Blakely said. “We wouldn’t be suggesting this medication to someone who has a mild form of autism and is perfectly capable of having a good quality of life and functioning in society … but there are children who become institutionalized.”
He added: “And even for people who are quite independent, ‘you do wonder, if they had the option when they were a little younger [to take a medication], maybe they would have an even higher quality of life.”
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